Speaking Freely on the High Costs of Free

If you have been hanging out online, you’ve probably noticed the copious amounts of free stuff that entrepreneurial practitioners like myself — teachers, coaches, artists, writers, etc. — have to offer.*

free lunch To begin with, there are blogs and articles that showcase skills, philosophies and advice — information you used to have to purchase via book, magazine or other publications. Blog posts and other online written materials enable you to get to know a practitioner’s voice. The idea is that if you resonate, you’ll want to hear more — so you’ll stick around. But with so much free information available these days, practitioners have had to offer way more free to get people’s attention.

So they also offer e-books and mini-courses, called “Opt-ins,” that you download all for the price of your e-mail address (ahem, if you haven’t already, my e-book can be found in the footer of this page) so that the practitioner can stay connected to you via newsletter updates which share specialized free advice and information about offerings.

But now that everyone’s inbox looks like a New York City subway at rush hour, practitioners also offer free courses and webinars that showcase a live experience and a generous taste of their offerings, in the hopes that participants will connect with them and buy more.

I offer all three. And maybe you, Dear Reader, are an online entrepreneur who does as well, or you’re considering it.

But I’ve made a decision. This summer will be the last of the free webinars.

I like being generous. I enjoy teaching people how to live and love with a greater sense of mastery and satisfaction, and I am happy to be of service. I’ll do this forever on my blog. But there are a lot of problems with the more intensive free offerings that no one’s talking about. And these dynamics can knock your average online entrepreneur out of his or her own sense of authority in regards to their marketing strategies and offerings.

So what’s the problem with free?

1) Audience is Everything: If you are teaching online entrepreneurs how to make money, a free offering is a perfect marketing tool. You’ve got an audience that has time during the day. They have literal hunger for useful information, and what you sell after your free advice will probably be a high cost ticket. But for other service practitioners without huge audiences, free can signal to a potential participant that it isn’t really worth their time, especially if what’s being offered has to do with personal transformation. Personal transformation is equally as appealing as it is threatening to a person’s sense of self, and that’s what makes it harder to sell.

2) Reciprocity, Generosity & Manipulation: The Law of Reciprocity is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in healthy people. When someone does something nice for you, you are compelled to do something nice back. The idea behind free courses is connected to this law — you give so much useful information for free that people will want to work with you not only because they liked what you had to say, but also as a way to give back. It’s been a strong marketing principle for years.

But instead of giving freely, people overuse this law to their sales advantage, and it reeks of manipulation: they bombard your screen with hackneyed advice and encyclopedic free offerings. A few things happen as a result: participants may purchase an offer made at the end of a free course from a place of feeling elated and obligated, but they end up asking for a refund or don’t participate fully; or the webinars attracts takers who go from one free webinar to another, collecting free advice but never committing to anything. And then, there’s this:

3) The Gratitude Hangover: I spoke with a woman who recently completed a month long free mini-course with a coach, and she was feeling guilty. She had received so much, but she didn’t want to work with the coach one-on-one, and it left her with this feeling of gratitude that she didn’t really know how to express. It actually felt mildly burdensome. Who knew?

4) Not All Free Offerings are Created Equalfree: — A good free webinar can leave you enriched, with a sense that your hour was well spent, and you’ll consider paying to work with the practitioner in the future. But for most of them, you get what you pay for. You’ll notice there’s a formula. The hosts will say “hi” to all the people pouring in — as a way to welcome them, but also to show others that they have large audiences. When this goes on for ten minutes, it becomes tedious. Then, they introduce themselves, sometimes offering their entire CV, followed by a few tidbits of mildly useful information, maybe with questions and answers. Then comes THE SALES PITCH. These sales pitches can go on and on to the point that you feel slimed.

5) Entrepreneurial Burnout: Finally, when people are pouring their hearts and souls into their free offerings, without much return, they become tired and discouraged. Furthermore, if you’re like me, you’re lucky to have 30 people sign up for a free webinar, and since in general between 10 and 20 percent of those sign-ups will actually show up, it’s hard to give your all to copious promotion that results in a small turnout.

Why don’t they show up? It’s not your offer. It’s that people have little respect for free. And once you really see that, if you give too much of it, it means you’re not respecting yourself. You’ll start to feel burned out.

I deeply respect my work and my offerings. They have been crafted with love and the utmost care to offer an experience of transformation in regards to the way you think about relationships. They’re sophisticated. Participants have called them “game changers.” Simply put: They’re worth more.

This is why I am offering for the last time, my two “free” webinars, before I turn them into mini-courses.

You can take the two remaining free offerings, each with two dates to choose from:

For singles, couples, or people confused about intimacy:
How to Be in a Relationship Without Losing Yourself — Wednesday, July 29th, 8pm EDT; and Monday, Aug.3, 12:30pm EDT


For coaches, therapists, consultants and wise folk who struggle in relationship:
How Not to Be Your Partner’s Therapist (or business consultant, life coach, healer, etc.): The “Right Roles” Webinar — Thursday, July 30, 12:30pm EDT and Wednesday, August 5, 8pm EDT.

Sign-up by clicking on the posts and entering your information in the fields at the bottom!

And do let me know your thoughts about “free” in the comments below.

*This article was conceived through several conversations with CEO mentor and wise woman Ande Lyons.

17 responses to “Speaking Freely on the High Costs of Free”

  1. David Tumbarello says:

    You bring up a good point – that an exchange of money makes both parties agree there is value both ways. And I think people want to bring value to the relationship. You are so right – that people have little respect for “free”. During the past two years I have attended many meetup.com events. The events are great (and I’ve hosted a few) but I learn that a percent of those who RSVP don’t show. So a table for 16 is empty three or four chairs. What this causes is a headache for the host and for the restaurant or other venue. Why are the chairs empty? I can only guess it is because there is nothing to lose by signing up for the event – no cost to the RSVP – so just like your free seminars in which some of the people attend, these meetups are not fully populated. Is there an easy recipe for success? In your case you are charging – which makes both parties responsible to show up. I like this and think it brings respect to the relationship. Can you lose clients? You’ll probably make more quality contacts this way – and isn’t that the goal after all?

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Thanks for chiming in here, Dave. I think you hit the nail on the head – it’s about high quality all the way around: quality of the offering, quality of the attention, and quality of the relationship between the service provider and client.

  2. Great post Blair! I have been guilty for signing up for free webinars and not showing but it is not due to the fact that I lost interest, it is usually because something at work comes up (and they are always scheduled during work hours) or they offer a free sign up with the statement that the webinar will be emailed to you afterwards. Personally, I like that option as it gives me time to view it when I can focus on it. You hit the nail on the head with the slimy sales approach. While I may not personally purchase something from the person afterwards it does not mean that I don’t recommend that other people do. I have often recommended people and promotions to others that I thought we really good. But I hate being bombarded with emails reminding me that I have 72 hours, 48 hours, 24 hours, 12 hours, 1 hour, Last Chance, We’ve extended the special offer, We have extended it again just for you emails all from the same person. I have received up to 20 emails from the same person in 1 week about the great promotion that I cannot miss out on. I rarely recommend those people and often hit unsubscribe as fast as I can. Kudos to you for changing your stance. It is probably better to have a smaller but engaged audience that really wants to be there than a bunch of people that don’t.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Thanks for your comment, Chantal! I too, have had a more pressing engagement get in the way of a free webinar. But I always wonder if I would have worked harder to keep the time if I had paid for it? Also, great point about the over-emailing . . . another issue we could write about — a good one perhaps for takeitpersonally.com? Thanks again for stopping by!

  3. Sharon says:

    Great post Blair, and timely as I am also sorting through the morass of marketing advice (after several years of working with some truly wonderful marketing coaches). Feels like free really has become much less valuable — I find that even after taking advantage of free stuff I find well crafted and helpful, it is easier to dismiss the provider on a certain level. Weird. My big pet peeve during webinars or teleseminars is when they keep harping on how it will be “content rich” — as if you can truly create what they are ultimately selling from this free call alone! I’ve sort of made a study of how these calls are conducted; some are clearly more effective and valuable than others. Thanks for a truly “content rich” discussion!

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Sharon! I feel a sisterhood with you in this long marketing journey. Jeffrey Davis and I have discussed this post at length on G+ and I would love for you to check out the discussions there. Jeffrey gives good webinar! but he is also convinced in the power of free. I’m not so sure it works for personal development. I think that free works better for business development. So nice to see you here!

  4. Sharon says:

    Blair, you have hit on something I’ve often pondered — translating marketing advice that is geared towards businesses that help others grow their business and making it truly work and make sense for wellness/spiritual development services. Don’t hang out on G+ but will look for you both (and said conversation) there!

  5. Webinars, whether free or fee, can be catalysts. If they stir people to action, then they may be worthwhile. However, I’ve found that what most people need to actually execute in a meaningful way on the information they receive is personalized support. That doesn’t scale, so most of the gurus simply don’t offer it.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      You always have a crisp and concise way of saying things. I agree – paid or free, they are designed to catalyze, but true change often requires personalized support. Thanks for commenting here.

  6. Ric Dragon says:

    My Dad, who for a long time owned a boarding kennel and raised dogs for showing, was fond of saying, “never give away a puppy.” The thinking was the people were less apt to care for the dog if they didn’t have an investment. Now, we all know of many cases where someone got a dog for free, and took perfectly great care – but the sentiment has legs. Four of them? 🙂

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Ric, I think your dad was very wise and the sentiment has legs! But as you and I know — not all viable dogs have four of them — so I think it’s politically correct to leave the number out. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one!

  7. Cheri says:

    Hi Blair,

    I love this post! I have had several conversations about this topic too. So many of us are burned out by the “Free Webinars” that offer little content except to create the need to purchase their product.

    While I understand the point of offering FREE is to help create a sense of trust and likeability since people are more apt to purchase if they know, like, and trust you – it can be overwhelming sorting through all the free stuff out there.

    I’m straddling the fence myself. I offer so much free quality content between my blog, newsletters, videos, and podcasts. I am glad that it helps so many, and I can offer it, AND I am also moving toward a shift. With personal transformation, people know they want to grow, burst through their limits, and are willing to invest themselves in the supportive environment that you, me and so many others provide.

    How much FREE stuff do they need before making that commitment for themselves. I applaud you for taking your stand.

    I infuse all I do with love and blessings and I will continue to offer some free options, and limit how much is free also. I have already moved in that direction and will continue to do so.

    I value the experience, time, money and energy that has gotten me to this place where I can help so many others as I know you do as well. When we see that value with love and not resentment, we can do so much more. We also deserve to be compensated just like any other person who offers services and products.

    I’d rather have a limited audience who has paid knowing they will receive what they are paying for than hundreds of people who are curious or just getting what they can for free.

    I do understand that It helps to build an audience in the beginning and to build a relationship and then it comes time to draw the line.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      I really appreciate your response. There was a time, when I was a regular psychotherapist, when I offered nothing for free, except and initial 10 minute phone call to set up our first paid consultation.
      Then I started newsletters. And then, as I changed direction into more of a coaching mentorship practice, I got swept up. Webinars, mini-sessions, etc.
      Free has become a marketing tool — but if we created businesses before the online world of free free free, we can do it again. I, like you, enjoy sharing resources and wisdom at no cost to an extent, but I also know that real change takes investment from both myself and my client, and that investment has to have the appropriate sacrifice.
      Once again, great share, and thank you for sharing here!

  8. […] When I was in the middle of my free 5-day course offering, spending hours a day helping a handful of entrepreneurs create their own fabulous free offer, I read a blog post by my friend and colleague, Blair Glaser called Speaking Freely on the High Cost of Free. […]

  9. Amanda Rush says:

    Hi Blair,

    I stumbled on this post, and I’d like to thank you for writing it. The part about all the free webinars really hit home with me, because I think probably 98% of the webinars I’ve attended were actually just long sales pitches, and no, I don’t like that. I get that people have to sell, but if you’re going to offer free content, then offer it freely and don’t obviously sell to people throughout the whole thing without providing the info you promised. You being the webinar presenters, not you literally.

    I offer a lot of free content through my site’s blog, specifically relating to using WordPress with adaptive technology and developing so that websites are accessible. I’m seriousy considering locking it down and charging a membership fee for it. Of course it’s not that I don’t like helping people, but acquiring the knowledge required to do this has taken over a decade of experience and learning. So thanks for giving us permission, so to speak, to not give away the store for free.


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